Where the Graduates Go (and Don’t)

According to a recent piece in the New York Times, some U.S. cities have a real shortage of college graduates. As Sabrina Tavernise writes:

Dayton sits on one side of a growing divide among American cities, in which a small number of metro areas vacuum up a large number of college graduates, and the rest struggle to keep those they have.

The winners are metro areas like Raleigh, N.C., San Francisco and Stamford, Conn., where more than 40 percent of the adult residents have college degrees. The Raleigh area has a booming technology sector and several major research universities; San Francisco has been a magnet for college graduates for decades; and metropolitan Stamford draws highly educated workers from white-collar professions in New York like finance.

Metro areas like Bakersfield, Calif., Lakeland, Fla., and Youngstown, Ohio, where less than a fifth of the adult residents have college degrees, are being left behind.

Well “left behind” is one way to put it, but this isn’t much of a surprise.

That’s because some cities are terrible places to try and get a job. The numbers are stark, however. Obviously only might expect more college graduates to flock to growing cities like New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta at far higher rates than they go to Dayton, Ohio. But it’s more extreme than that. Practically no one is going to Dayton.

The trouble is that it’s not just that people don’t go to Dayton (where less than a quarter of residents have college degrees) because there are no jobs; in another sense there are no jobs in Dayton because the Ohio city has so few college graduates.

As Tavernise explains, cities like Dayton “are discovering that one of the most critical ingredients for a successful transformation — college graduates — is in perilously short supply.”

It didn’t used to be like this. Back in 1970, according to the article, the difference between the most and least educated cities was much less extreme.

College graduates go to thriving cities because there are jobs there. Such cities continue to thrive because there are college graduates there. For the other cities however, it’s hard to attract anything.

Getting beyond this, trying to lure college graduates to declining cities in order to revive them, is pretty damn hard to pull off. Even declining industrial cities with lots of colleges have trouble retaining the graduates of these colleges in the city once they leave.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer